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Generation X
Generation Y

E-Mail Takes A Backseat To Social Media

In the mid-1990s, I worked at a company that introduced a collaborative e-mail station for staff to share on a single computer. I remember how afraid management was to allow e-mail access to everyone. Management warned us that e-mail was a dangerous privelige and the information could just as easily end up in a black hole for anyone to find. Nothing good could come of using e-mail, they told us. It was much safer and easier to use a telephone.

In the mid-1990s, I worked at a company that introduced a collaborative e-mail station for staff to share on a single computer. I remember how afraid management was to allow e-mail access to everyone. Management warned us that e-mail was a dangerous privelige and the information could just as easily end up in a black hole for anyone to find. Nothing good could come of using e-mail, they told us. It was much safer and easier to use a telephone.We’ve come a long way in the past decade. (Someday I will tell my children that story and they will think their mommy is older than dirt.)Indeed, the ‘killer app’ of the first part of the Internet boom was e-mail. E-commerce, search engines, music, and video rapidly followed, and now there’s social media. E-mail has held on through the past years as arguably the king of the Internet, used by people of all ages.Not anymore. E-mail has taken a backseat to social media, just as telephones took a backseat to smart phones and Skype.According to an article posted on, “Generation Z finds e-mail antiquated and passé, so they simply ignore it.” Hitwise general manager of global research agreed, stating: “Kids today prefer one to many communication; e-mail to them is antiquated.”We’ve moved from ‘fearful adoption’ to ‘killer app’ to ‘antiquated’ in record speed.E-mail isn’t entirely going away, but it just may not be the first means of digital communication in a world that is becoming more and more defined by social media. Younger generations prefer social media messaging because it acts like a real conversation among friends, capable of virtually instantaneous responses and including words, pictures, videos, and audio.Recently, I connected on Facebook with my 13-year-old nephew. I’m convinced he spends more time chatting with friends on Facebook than he does anywhere else in life. That same nephew stayed with us during the holiday break, and rarely took his thumbs off his phone. He couldn’t even watch an action-packed movie without texting someone or updating his Facebook status.Social networks are growing in popularity with Generation X (27-44), too. Thirty-somethings account for the fast-growing Facebook and LinkedIn users. Connecting with colleagues via social networking is considered more personal and easier than making telephone calls or sending e-mails because people are constantly in dialogue with one another and updating their status.It’s much easier to read your contacts’ social networking posts and stay informed on a daily basis than to send a series of e-mails periodically to individuals asking, “How are you doing?” or “What are you up to?”Another sign that e-mail is falling from superior status — people are no longer exchanging e-mails; they’re exchanging social media information. “Are you on Facebook?” is the new “Can I get your phone number?” And just as people use Google as a verb — “Google it” — they’re starting to use phrases like “Facebook me.”E-mail has been one of the best performing channels for businesses for years, and companies have spent money building up and managing databases.Now businesses will need to slightly adjust their way of thinking. First it was about gathering databases of addresses and phone numbers, then it was about gathering e-mail databases. Today, communication with fans and consumers is more likely to occur on someone else’s database (Facebook, YouTubeTwitter, etc.).Remember: Younger generations don’t want to be sold anything and they don’t want to be a number instead of a name. Younger generations want meaningful relationships.In the past, a meaningful relationship was reserved for friendships that had been cultivated over several years time. Today, meaningful relationships are defined by a common connection or interest, and furthered through on-going dialogue and the opportunity to share the emotions, thoughts, achievements, and people in one’s life.Good businesses will realize that e-mail doesn’t reign supreme anymore. It’s not all about the instant win of getting someone into a database or even the formality of always communicating one-to-one.Rather, it is about cultivating relationships via social media. And if done correctly, your business will have a relationship that lasts a lifetime.

Zs came of age in an era of disruption

In many ways, it’s symbolic that Generation Z is named after the last letter in the alphabet because their arrival marks the end of clearly defined roles, traditions, and experiences. After all, Gen Z is coming of age on the heels of what has been referred to as the most disruptive decade of the last century. America has become an increasingly changing and complex place.

For example:

  • ‍Zs were born into a “modern family era” in which highly involved dads help out at home, and the nuclear family model (two parents, married, with children) represent only 46% of American households.
  • ‍Zs are the first generation to be born into a world where everything physical, from people to places to pennies, has a digital equivalent.
  • From the time they were infants, Zs had access to mobile technology. As a result, their brains have been trained to absorb large amounts of information, and Zs are especially adept at shifting between skills and subject matter.
  • Zs tend to have crystal-clear memories of sitting up for the first time at six months old because they can easily and quickly reference the photos and videos their parents shared on social media or saved in the “cloud”. 

Members of this generation have undoubtedly been shaped by crisis and disruption. This generation will largely be responsible for confronting the aftermath of the Great Recession, high youth unemployment, the effects of climate change, terrorism, energy sustainability, and more. These dark events have undoubtedly made this generation more cautious and pragmatic, but they have also provided this generation with the inspiration to change the world – and their grit will likely allow them to do it.

Coming of age during disruption means that most Zs will be comfortable being the disruptors. While Millennials tend to be collaborative and innovative, this generation tends to be sincere, reflective, thick-skinned, and self-directed, and will likely approach work in much the same way.

Zs were raised to be competitive

In the era following World War II, Boomers (1946-1964) were born and eventually became the wealthiest, most prosperous generation in history. Raised to aspire for the American Dream, this very large generation moved into positions of power and influence, and served as the workforce majority for 34 years.

With the American Dream alive and well, Boomers had no reason to teach their children, mostly Millennials, about competition. Instead, they taught them to focus on academic achievement and to be team players because if everyone works hard, everyone can win.

Enter Generation X (1965-1981). In contrast Boomers, Xers came of age during a time when change and economic and political uncertainty began to take root. They have lived through four recessions, struggled with debt and economic decline most of their lives, and watched the best educated and accomplished generation of all time (Millennials) graduate during the Great Recession and become the most debt-ridden generation in history.

Gen Xers can be defined by their independence and anti-status quo approach to life, and they have taught their Gen Z children to be competitive, believing only the best can win. They have encouraged their children to be realists, finding something they are good at and aggressively pursuing it.

Xers have raised their Zs with an intense focus on competitiveness -- in academics, sports, and other activities. This approach to parenting has many implications, but one stands out in terms of business: Gen Z is likely to lead.

Millennials in the workplace created and aggressively advocated for collaborative work environments. In fact, their aversion to leadership has been so strong, some Millennials sought out companies that boasted boss-free or team-managed workplaces.

In contrast, Zs have been raised with an individualistic, realistic, and competitive nature. They have been taught the skills to successfully defy the norm. This means we’re going to see the pendulum shift away from collaborative workplaces towards a widespread demand for, and pursuit of, leadership development.

Zs are career-focused.

While Millennials have been criticized for their “delayed adulthood”, Gen Z is showing signs of “early adulthood”. Educators and parents often describe this generation as being more serious and contemplative about the world. Zs are thinking about their career paths and exposing themselves to career training at an earlier age than Millennials. It’s probable that some of this early onset of adulthood is caused by parents, who are pressuring their children to be competitive and successful and to avoid the debt that plagued both the Gen Xers and Millennials.

The numbers from our global research found 46% of Gen Z said they know what career to pursue and 51% have taken a class at school focused on their career interests. Forty percent joined an extracurricular program (team, club) based on their career interests.

Zs are seeking financial security. 

Zs have been shaped by the aftermath of the Great Recession. They watched Millennials become debt-ridden and are concerned about falling into the same trap. XYZ University’s survey results show 66% of Zs said financial stability is more important than doing work they enjoy, which is the exact opposite of Millennial survey results.  Also, 71% of survey-takers have a paying job.

Zs value leaders who are positive and trustworthy.

When presented a list of leadership traits, Zs ranked positive and trustworthy the highest. While Millennials and Gen Zs both value trust in a leader, Millennials usually cite collaboration and vision as most important. In other words, Millennials focus on the outcomes leaders inspire, whereas Zs are more likely to consider leaders’ attitudes and personalities. To Z, what leaders encourage others to do isn’t as valuable as how they make them feel.


Zs want to be challenged.

Both Millennials and Gen Zs place a very high value on feeling challenged and appreciated in the workplace. However, according to our survey results Millennials rank appreciation slightly higher than challenge, whereas Zs rank feeling challenged slightly higher than appreciation.

Time will tell how Zs go down in history, but we know this generation’s influence on history will be unlike any other.


Does your organization have what it takes to engage the next generation? Take this quiz to find out.


Sarah Sladek is CEO of XYZ University. Our generational intelligence can assist you with engaging and retaining young talent and members.

Sarah Sladek

Concerned about declining engagement in our nation’s membership associations, non-profits, and workplaces, Sarah Sladek founded XYZ University, the nation’s first and only generations-focused training and engagement strategy company, in 2002.

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